Slate Effect Tiles – How Real Do They Look?
Slate effect tiles, which imitate natural slate flooring, are overtaking real slate in modern homes and the hospitality sector. Why are consumers moving from beautiful slabs of cut rock to ceramic or porcelain?
Now more than ever, consumers are being offered a wider array of products with which to complete and decorate their homes. Slate has long been a favourite choice for flooring, given its extreme durability, rugged aesthetics, and rustic charm.
However, a viable alternative has, in recent years, emerged as a realistic challenger to natural slate in the high street. There is no question that the ever increasing presence and sales which slate effect tiles enjoy are chipping away at the dominance of the genuine stone in this particular market.
The Love of Stone
With natural slate being in use for centuries, either as a material for finishing roofs, or as flooring, it is long established as a favourite for builders and homeowners alike.
As an incredibly tough rock, it provides the perfect solution for those seeking a long lasting floor, be it in a commercial or domestic situation. It can easily withstand the rigours of the traffic in a busy pub or shop, without succumbing to any damage. The same cannot be said for stone such as travertine or sandstone, which can wear at a much more significant rate.
Slate slabs are generally provided in a natural state – that is to say that often the manufacturers do not process the rock any further than cutting it to size. This means that the stone is supplied with a surface that can be extremely rough, with undulations on the surface, and evidence of clefts. This characteristic is considered one of the more appealing of natural slate, and is one that is not usually found with most other commercially available stones.
Aside from the rugged features, slate comes in myriad colours. While greys are the most commonly available, there can be anything from light ivories, greens, rust colours, and greens, all the way down to jet blacks. Often, within any given batch of slate, there can be large tonal variations from one piece to the next. Indeed, because the stone can be laid either way up, those seeking an impressive variety of different hues throughout the floor will not be disappointed.
That is not to say that it is impossible to purchase slate with greater uniformity of colour amongst the tiles. However, the diversity of shades, patterns, and colours is often considered one of the more desirable traits of the slate stone.
Slate, therefore, lends itself to give a rustic, weathered, and ancient look. This is why it is often found on the floors of bars, restaurants, and shops in every country in the world, as owners strive to create a certain type of ambience for their clientele – all whilst still availing of the incredible durability and longevity of the product.
The Rise of Slate Effect Tiles
There have been remarkable strides forward in the tiling industry in recent years, as it seeks newer technologies with which to develop the styles of their products. The main advance in this regard has been the embrace of high definition digital printing systems. This has had a positive impact on the quality of merchandise being produced.
Prior to this digital development, tile factories had employed screen printing to decorate the surface of the tiles with whatever colour or pattern was required.
This had a number of drawbacks:
Today, the majority of manufacturers are outputting tiles upon which the images, patterns or decorations are extremely accurate, in high definition, filled up to edge, and which follow the contours of the surface.
Understandably, slate effect tiles are a huge beneficiary of this new technology, and there are now tiles on the market with detail so accurate that it is, to all intents and purposes, impossible to distinguish them from real slate. A selection of such tiles can be viewed online at https://tiledevil.co.uk/collections/slate-effect-tiles, allowing prospective buyers to make up their own mind.
Porcelain tiles are exceptionally hard wearing, as well as being frost resistant in most cases. Slate effect tiles are produced in the same vast array of sizes, colours and styles as the real stone, but are generally cheaper, easier to handle and transport, and are thinner than natural slate, leading to less installation problems.
Given how accurately the tiles replicate the stone, it is understandable that consumers would opt for the product that entails the least hassle for the same finish.
The Final Tally
When it comes to totting up the final bill, the single largest item on the list, with natural stone, comes in the form of labour. While most stones are more expensive than slate effect tiles, the real difference becomes apparent when comparing the cost of installation.
Slate effect ceramic or porcelain tiles, being of uniform thickness, can be laid on a bed of adhesive, which may be spread in advance up to an area of 1 square metre. The tiles are fixed into position, and the tiler moves onto the next section. There is little more to it than that.
However slate slabs used for flooring usually vary in thickness. This has implications when laying the pieces down. The very thickest pieces must be placed first. If not, and the thinner ones are used at the start, by the time the tiler comes to put down the thick ones, they will already be too deep to match the level of the floor, in addition to which there will no room for adhesive underneath.
The trick is to arrange all the pieces, at the outset, in decreasing order of thickness, and start tiling with the deepest ones first. While this is not too onerous a task, it does take time. What takes much more time, however, is the trial and error involved in applying just the right amount of adhesive beneath each slab, one at a time, in such a way that the surface of the tile matches exactly with the level of the existing ones.
This extra work and time predictably leads to higher wage costs.
Also, stone cannot be cut using the simple score and snap method which works so quickly and readily with tiles. An electric cutting machine is needed, and is exceptionally slow, by comparison, when cutting and shaping the pieces. It is also messy and is often done outside to avoid ruining the inside areas of the home.
All these additional processes during installation can see a labour bill in excess of double that of the equivalent job using slate effect tiles.
With ceramic or porcelain tiles more than capable of holding their own in terms of physical appearance in comparison to the natural stone, the most important other factor a consumer considers when weighing up their options is installation cost.
The labour cost involved with natural slate can be in excess of the cost of the entire job, including materials, had tiles been used instead. It is this matter alone which is nudging more consumers away from the natural rock, and into the path of slate effect tiles.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This article was prepared by Graham Grumley of Tile Devil.
Established in 1987, Tile Devil supplies bathroom and kitchen tiles to the UK market.